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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Cisco Meraki masterfully enabling digital workplaces for SMBs

New work patterns and acceleration of distributed workplaces are resulting in a range of productivity benefits for SMBs today. As such, businesses see increased workforce efficiencies and talent recruitment while minimizing cost by reducing intermediaries and integration of contract professionals – and even improved environmental performance through reduced commuting and building footprints.

In the quest to deploy a perfect hybrid workplace technology infrastructure, SMBs often overlook networking – wireless, routers, firewalls, and beyond. Similarly, as small business retailers and other small commercial offices struggle with re-opening uncertainties, they are also grappling with the daunting task of enabling secure and safe environments for their employees and customers. Digitization with minimum IT disruption and low manageability is on their minds.

Cash flow constraints, limited access to finances, competitive landscapes, need for innovation, erratic revenue, uncertainties, the pace of technology change, and many more are drivers for achieving cost efficiencies within SMBs. Digital transformation is no longer the domain of only upper midmarket firms and enterprises. Techaisle's SMB and Midmarket Digital transformation survey research shows that 46% of SMBs are adopting digital transformation to reduce costs, and 38% are planning for innovation in customer engagement and services.

Helping SMBs thrive with robust IT solutions

Unbeknownst to many, the Cisco Meraki platform and the solutions that it powers is a critical foundational technology to fast-forward digital transformation for SMBs. Much of this comes from its ease of use, simplicity, and flexibility for lean IT to innovate by doing more with less.

Cisco acquired Meraki in 2012, around the same time (2013) when it divested Linksys to Belkin. Over the years, Cisco has continued to innovate on its highly successful Meraki platform. It is no secret that Cisco Meraki invented cloud-managed networking technology in 2006 and has continued to innovate and expand the networking portfolio to IoT solutions and cover any business need or use case. The Meraki platform consists of switching, security & SD-WAN, wireless access points, mobile device management, and now extending to IoT, including smart cameras and AI-equipped sensors to drive business intelligence.

When it comes to deep intelligence and analytics, Meraki Health and Meraki Insight allow SMBs to monitor all aspects of their network and applications from the Meraki dashboard or API and easily detect and fix potential issues in minutes. Techaisle's survey research shows that only 4% of small businesses have internal full-time IT staff. They spend 79% of their time on support, maintenance, and troubleshooting—creating not only an IT efficiency deficit but also negatively impacting organizational productivity. Meraki Health's objective is to make troubleshooting simple for the lean, almost non-existent, or over-burdened small business owner/manager. Ultimately, small businesses need to propel growth and enable new business initiatives freeing up time and resources.

To ease the digital transformation, Meraki provides many capabilities that protect SMBs of any size, including:

  • Preventing cyber-attacks: Meraki MX Security & SD-WAN appliances protect SMB business, users, and devices. Meraki security has the backing of Cisco Talos, one of the largest commercial threat intelligence teams globally.
  • Deploying remote workers: Meraki Z3 teleworker gateways provide connectivity and secure and seamless in-office experiences. Meraki Insight delivers deep visibility into critical business applications and proactive troubleshooting for remote workers.
  • Ensuring safe occupancy: Meraki MV smart cameras lets SMBs maintain social distancing guidelines by remotely monitoring and tracking safe occupancy levels in physical environments through intelligent analytics, such as object detection and tracking.
  • Cost savings from simplicity: All Meraki products are deployed and controlled from a single pane of glass. Meraki Health is available for all devices, saving a lot of troubleshooting time by pinpointing specific problematic devices and clients via root cause analysis.

SMBs agree that Meraki solutions can be quickly deployed with zero-touch provisioning and configuration and remotely managed through a cloud-based GUI dashboard (single pane of glass), with all-inclusive licensing. Meraki provides 24/7 technical support (email or phone) and a lifetime warranty on devices (except cameras & outdoor APs) with advanced replacement.

Challenges in small business security

Techaisle's SMB security survey research data shows that security is a top IT priority and challenge for 76% of SMBs, and 65% are planning to increase IT security investments. Within the SMB segment, small businesses often lack the skills required to work with software-based security solutions and tend to be 25%-33% less likely than midmarket firms to work with managed service providers.
Most small businesses are not proactive in addressing security issues, but that may not be the whole problem, or perhaps even the greatest obstacle to small business adoption of security technology. Relative to midmarket firms, small businesses have limited to no internal IT security staff, are not generally working with a managed service provider capable of handling security needs, and are about 50% less likely to embrace external vendors' software-based security solutions.

While small businesses could theoretically pursue some strategies used by larger competitors, they lack the experience and skills needed to identify, deploy, and manage the products and relationships used to develop shields protecting valuable corporate data, applications, and human assets.

Meraki addresses these issues by providing a secure in-office experience to remote workers—giving access to applications while maintaining visibility and control from anywhere with a cloud-managed dashboard. It also encrypts data with Auto VPN, allowing employees to quickly, securely, and remotely connect to corporate locations.

Meraki smart cameras also address physical security, remote monitoring, and intelligence by including on-device storage and flexibility to access the data through the cloud. The cameras allow for a significant amount of playback features with machine learning and AI to compress the data and provide business intelligence instantly gleaned from long recordings. It is an ideal product for SMBs implementing social distancing guidelines, remotely monitoring physical spaces, reducing in-person exposure on-site, and ensuring comprehensive security.

How SMBs can adapt and digitize

As I said earlier, there is increasing importance for innovation and digitization (not referring strictly to the substitution of digital records for physical documents, but more broadly to the use of digital technologies to meet business goals) in SMB strategy. A combination of increased reliance on technology as a critical element of business success, burgeoning complexity, and cost constraint has created a perfect storm for small businesses to adapt to their changing environments using specifically designed technology.

Over the last few months, we studied use cases and Meraki's usefulness within the SMB segment. Meraki addresses real and compelling issues, and I believe it will continue to expand within the SMB community. Verticals such as healthcare, manufacturing, retail, and financial services have been quick adopters of Meraki, specifically, for launching new business models, deploying remote workers, transitioning to hybrid workplaces, cybersecurity, location analysis, contact tracing, social distancing, personal safety, curbside pickup, and more.

SMB owners and executives are concerned with issues that extend beyond technology. Yet, today's business environments are increasingly dependent on IT support, products, and services that improve productivity and efficiency or expand market reach and potential.

IT initiatives that can be linked meaningfully to broader business objectives can attract SMB executive support – meaning that products and services that address key business priorities have the most significant growth potential. Meraki is well on its way.

The future of IT

Today's economy demands that technology support SMB activities. The future will be defined by them capitalizing on technology-enabled business options. If SMBs are thinking about the path forward, from today's foundation to tomorrow's opportunity, they should include Meraki in their evaluations. Writing this analysis reminds me that I am working from home, and I should probably replace my mesh-routers with Meraki devices.

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Why I liked Lenovo Flex 5G – work from anywhere and anytime

If devices define an office, the location of the user of the device determines the workplace. I wrote this entire review from my temporary workplace, Bryant Park, New York City, using M365 on a Lenovo Flex 5G notebook with Verizon Wireless 5G. The big deal is Windows 10 Pro running on Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 8cx processor and Qualcomm X55 modem, which delivers 5G - mmWave/Sub6 - connectivity from Verizon Wireless.

It was fortuitous that I was in New York City, where 5G is more widely available as opposed to being in San Jose, where Verizon 5G is almost non-existent. Lenovo Flex 5G provided me the flexibility and versatility to continue with my work, participate in video-conferences, and deliver webinars. The Qualcomm Snapdragon processor did not create any app compatibility issues for me. I use very few applications outside of productivity, collaboration, and communications – all of which worked without any hitch. Although startup was slower than Intel-based PCs, I was okay with sacrificing a few seconds for connectedness. Verizon 5G is spotty at best in New York. I downloaded the Verizon 5G coverage map and had to make efforts to look for 5G at street corners or some public spaces such as parks. The maximum download speed I ever got was 570 Mbps and the upload speed of 54 Mbps. I do like larger storage capacity and memory. With only 256GB SSD availability and 8GB RAM on Lenovo Flex 5G, I was always nervous about crashing massive data spreadsheets or running out of space.

Lenovo Flex 5G 2 in 1 notebook has an Iron Grey aluminum and magnesium chassis with an understated design. Yet, I found it imposing and business-like, weighs light at 2.9 lbs although slightly heavier than X1 Carbon, is thin enough to tuck under the arm comfortably, and has insane battery life. The interior is uncluttered with a hint of Lenovo and the Verizon 5G logo. The 360-degree hinge allows the Lenovo Flex 5G to be used in tent mode or fold it completely flat like a tablet. One evening, I used it to play some videos (in the tent mode) at the center of a table during a socially-distanced family get-together in Central Park. Even the Dolby Atmos sound through two speakers, on either side of the keyboard, was enough for us to enjoy. The Lenovo Flex 5G is a quiet PC as there is no requirement for a cooling fan since all processing happens silently as compared to Intel and AMD-powered notebooks.

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Unified Workspace is important for SMB remote workforce productivity

Techaisle global survey found that for 42% of SMBs’ improving employee productivity is a priority and 43% are using digitalization initiatives for employee empowerment and over one-third are digitally transforming to support employees. There are many factors involved in driving productivity, including management approaches, processes and practices, and collaboration/synergy across activities and functions. But technology is a key contributor to productivity – directly, and through its ability to positively affect processes and internal coordination. Techaisle research shows that these benefits don’t accrue to all SMBs equally: SMBs that are advanced in their approach to IT (“Enterprise IT”) are about twice as likely to achieve the productivity-enabled benefits than lowest-performing firms, and 30% more likely to realize productivity benefits than the average SMB.

The statistics quoted above show that technology is seen as a source of productivity-enhancing capabilities – meaning, in some way, that technology has “permission” from the business to help drive higher levels of remote workforce performance. However, improved performance requires a strategy, and in technology matters, this strategy is being driven by SMB IT staff. It is therefore important that the SMB IT function be responsive to business requirements, deploying requested technology and delivering user training. There is another role, though, that SMB IT staff management can and should play: focusing on technologies that are proven to contribute to workforce enablement, deploying these technologies within the organization and working with business staff to ensure that the benefits inherent in the technologies are recognized and captured. This advances the IT function from simply responding to requests to providing leadership in enabling the SMB workforce.

Techaisle’s research has identified a number of solutions that are seen as driving productivity within SMBs and midmarket firms – approaches that IT managers can and should explore as they seek ways to connect the potential of IT to demonstrable increases in productivity. Three of these solutions - unified workspace, collaboration, and mobility, are especially important in a technology-dependent economy, and each contributes meaningfully to enabling the workforce.

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Remote work is escalating need for connected digital workplace platform within SMB and Midmarket

Distributed, remote, mobile – these are the realities of today’s workforce. The workspace isn’t defined by windows and walls and common area couches. For millions of SMB employees, the workspace isn’t a physical location – it’s a virtual space defined by access from multiple screens which are used from multiple locations. Consider these data points from Techaisle’s SMB survey research. Pre-pandemic, 24% of SMB global workforce was mobile. Today, the number has jumped to 51% within small businesses and 47% in midmarket firms. These numbers are down from a high of 78% during country lockdowns. The category, “mobile workers”, is increasingly indistinguishable from “workers.” This means new ways of working, taking advantage of new technologies and capabilities to build an agile, mobile, secure work-style enabled by cloud, remote work, security and collaboration. When working remotely, 47% of SMB mobile workforce are using notebook to access corporate data, 9% tablets and 44% smartphones. If the office of an SMB is defined by devices, workplace is defined by the ability to work from wherever those devices and their users are located. As a result, 64% of SMBs are increasing investments in remote work solutions, and survey data shows there will likely be a whopping 380% increase in digital workplace adoption in the next one year within small businesses and 48% increase within midmarket firms.

The key focus is about the ‘future of work’: workflow, workspaces, workforce and the ways that an increasingly-connected world can support pursuit of previously-unattainable objectives for the SMBs and midmarket firms. Their most important technology-related effort is on connectedness – connected cloud, edge, applications, security, collaboration, workspaces and insights. Cloud and mobility are navigation routes but the always-on, everywhere-connected unified platform is the destination. These SMBs are looking for benefits arising from the interconnection of all types of resources: platforms/environments, information, devices and applications. Depth discussions and quantitative survey research with SMBs and midmarket firms points to a trend that is playing out across seven key areas as shown in the chart below:

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